Human Exceptionalism

The Politicization of Science Continues

The mutation of science from a fact deriving and disseminating enterprise and into a political one, continues unabated. Now, a “pro science” political action committee has been created, allegedly nonpartisan, to promote candidates “who respect evidence and understand the importance of using scientific and engineering advice in making public policy.”

Baloney. Most of the debates we have over “science,” aren’t really scientific. They lie instead in the realms of values, ethics, philosophy, and religion. Take the embryonic stem cell debate, as just one example. This is primarily an ethical debate, whether federal taxpayers should pay for the destruction of and research upon embryos. That isn’t a controversy science can answer scientifically. Science’s contribution should be to describe honestly and candidly what is involved, what they hope to achieve, and the problems they face. Scientists are of course free to assert that destroying an embryo for research isn’t unethical, and to lobby for funding, but those activities do not lie in the realm of science, and thus, should be given precisely as much and as little weight as anyone else’s opinions about ethics and morality.

The fight over Plan B birth control, an issue about which I am not engaged as a public advocate, is another example. The complaint from “the scientists” has been that the FDA has been slow to approve the use of the “day after” birth control pill without a prescription. But as I understand it (and I only have general knowledge about this dispute), the primary controversy was not over whether Plan B is an effective contraceptive or over its safety–both science issues–but rather, involved whether minors should be permitted to purchase this product without parental knowledge or consent. Sorry, but that issue has little to do with science. It is a dispute over values, the rights of parents to know whether their kids are being medicated, whether the right of autonomy in this area should extend to minors, etc.

So, when these scientists say they want to support candidates who will accept the advice of scientists, what I think they really mean is that the values of “the scientists” should prevail in public policy controversies involving scientific issues. In other words, this PAC continues the process of devolving science into a mere special interest. And in the end, that is very bad for science.